Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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IF CONVICTED OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, YOU SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED TO HAVE A GUN, Nov. 8

On Sunday, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in south Texas. Those killed ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years; among them was Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of the church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Some 20 others were wounded. As a member of the U.S. Air Force, Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for domestic violence. He was pursued by two local men being hailed as heroes; he was found dead in his vehicle with several gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted one in his head.

It's become something of a ritual now.

A mass shooting takes place in America — at a school, concert, movie theater, mall, a church. The nation freezes in horror. We grieve — for ever-shorter periods of time, because this happens so often.

Then we argue over why the shooting happened.

Second Amendment proponents resist the debate, insisting it's too soon. Gun regulation proponents say in fact that it's too late for those who have been killed.

We get nowhere.

Maybe it would help if we acknowledged a few basic facts about perpetrators of mass shootings.

The data show that they are mostly white men. But it would be unconstitutional — and ridiculous — to bar all white men from owning guns.

Some have mental illness, the problem President Donald Trump ascribed to Devin Kelley. It would seem reasonable to make it harder for the mentally ill to purchase guns, but earlier this year, the president signed a bill rolling back regulation that did just that.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Kelley had been treated at a mental health facility and briefly escaped in 2012.

Another trait seems common among mass shooters: Many are domestic abusers.

According to a study by Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety, 54 percent of the mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 were related to domestic or family violence.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist from Northeastern University in Boston, told PBS NewsHour this week only 16 percent of mass killings since 2006 involve individuals who have a history of domestic violence — though that number rises to 29 percent when the gunman kills his wife and family. Fox said mass shooters tend to be socially isolated men who blame others for their problems.

So we're either talking about half of the mass shooters, or nearly a third, or more than one in 10 — a significant percentage, no matter what.

Kelley was a domestic abuser. He not only assaulted his first wife, but he fractured the skull of his infant stepson — intentionally, he acknowledged in his court martial.

Imagine, if you can stomach it, exacting so much rage on a very young child that you break his precious skull. And then consider someone with so much rage having access to a gun.

A neighbor of Kelley's first wife told the San Antonio Express-News that she described her ex-husband as "a crazy, controlling, psycho who was very abusive."

He served an inexplicably brief 12 months in military confinement for domestic abuse. He was then given a bad conduct discharge.

This should have disqualified him from owning a gun. But the Air Force didn't enter his domestic violence offense in the federal database that should have prevented him from buying one.

On this point, we agree wholeheartedly with Second Amendment proponents: Officials ought to enforce the laws already on the books. It is outrageous that the Air Force failed to follow procedure. We hope that it and other branches of the military work now to ensure that similar mistakes aren't made again. And we'd urge law enforcement agencies and courts to likewise ensure that their notification systems are working as they should.

Because domestic violence should not just be a red flag in the gun-buying process, but an ear-shattering alarm.

The AP reported that a domestic violence complaint was lodged in 2014 against Kelley involving the woman who eventually became his second wife. That same year, the AP reported, he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty for beating a dog.

The following year, he was the subject of a protection from abuse order.

Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference Monday that the Sutherland Springs shooting "was not racially motivated, it wasn't over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on."

And now 26 people — about half of them children — are dead in a tiny town of fewer than 400 residents.

Those 26 include eight members of a single family — three generations of the Holcombe family hollowed out by a man who reportedly had a dispute with his own mother-in-law, who attended the same church.

Chillingly, according to AP, Kelley shot crying babies in the church at point-blank range.

Let's keep that harrowing detail in mind as we consider questions involving firearms and domestic violence.

In Pennsylvania, it's up to a judge to decide whether the recipient of a protection from abuse order should relinquish his guns — and if relinquishment is decreed, the person served with the PFA is given 24 hours to comply. We think the 24-hour deadline is arbitrary and unnecessary, and that relinquishment shouldn't be left to the discretion of a judge.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence also believes it's far too easy under current law for convicted abusers to get access to firearms, said spokesman Matt Kemeny.

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 501 would prohibit domestic violence abusers subject to a final PFA from possessing guns. That bill has been parked in the Senate Judiciary Committee since March.

It seems more imperative than ever that it be moved out of committee. We urge state Sens. Scott Martin and Ryan Aument to get behind that legislation, which was introduced by their fellow Republican Sen. Thomas Killion of Chester and Delaware counties.

Domestic violence is just one piece of the puzzle of mass violence. But it's a piece that must not be overlooked.

—LNP Newspaper

Online: http://bit.ly/2heDbrp

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TAX REFORM REMAINS TO BE SEEN, Nov. 7

The tax reform bill presented in the House of Representatives last week by the Republican majority could be useful to America, but will go back and forth through the mill at length before it becomes law, determining what Americans ultimately put on their tax returns.

President Donald Trump has asked that the bill be on his desk for signature by Christmas.

There are two major points to recall about what was put forward in the House on Thursday. The first is that the tax cut on American corporations' earnings, from 35 percent to 20 percent, is absolutely essential. That figure has not been changed in decades, a time when the structure and pattern of business across the world has gone from national-based to runaway globalization, leaving American corporations at a gross disadvantage to companies based in Ireland, Luxembourg and elsewhere, not to mention China.

Their predictable reaction has been to keep their profits stashed overseas, not bringing them home to pay out or invest. The lowest figure cited for those profits held in other countries, not repatriated, is $2.5 trillion and the figure is surely much higher than that. The question will become, of course, whether the new 20 percent rate would bring the money home, and, if it comes home, whether it will go to shareholders or to a company's employees or investments.

The other main point to bear in mind as the tax reform bill wends its merry way through the system is that every lobbyist in Washington will be grabbing every member of Congress in sight to seek to influence the new law in favor of his employer's interests. This is normal in Washington, as it is in Harrisburg. There will be a lot of money on the table, up for grabs.

It is too simple to put the battle in terms of business and high earners vs. the middle class. Matters to be determined include interest on student loans, limits on mortgage interest deductions, restrictions on deductions of various state and local taxes and the future of the estate tax and the alternate minimum tax, all matters potentially touching closely on the well-being of many Americans.

The final bill must retain the tax cut for American companies to save our competitiveness, and, second, it must actually be passed, ideally on time.

It will be a ghastly failure of the American governmental process if the impending scrap among competing lobbyist elements in Washington, with which we are sickeningly familiar, dooms us to inaction in this vital matter.

—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: http://bit.ly/2zttEVO

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TAPS VS. SPICE GIRLS: NOISE ORDINANCE NEEDS UPDATING

The stage was set when the Glen Rock Borough Council backed down from protecting their neighbors from nuisance noise.

If former Councilman Joshua Corney can blast taps from loudspeakers on his property every night, then it's only fair that all residents can force their musical tastes on neighbors — just as loud, just as often.

How about some Baha Men ("Who Let the Dogs Out?") or Spice Girls?

Love it or hate it, it doesn't matter — although if you hate "Spiceworld," that must mean you don't appreciate it enough and need to hear it much, much more often.

No? Doesn't sound reasonable?

Then let us tell you what we really, really want.

How about a little more respect and consideration between neighbors?

Corney, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, has been playing a recording of taps from his Glen Rock home nightly for about two years now. Last spring, he added pole-mounted loudspeakers at his property that make the music audible throughout the borough.

After complaints from neighbors, the borough council ordered him to play once a week and on "flag holidays," such as July 4, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

That seemed like a reasonable compromise to us, but it didn't last long.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania threatened to sue the borough if Corney wasn't allowed to play his music.

As a result, the council agreed to suspend outstanding violations against Corney while negotiations continued, and he resumed his nightly ritual.

One idea was to play taps from the Glen Rock Park, which would move "the source of the sound away from complainants," according to Council President Doug Young.

That was in July.

With little apparent progress toward a solution, one of Corney's neighbors has taken to exercising his own rights.

Since Sept. 30, Scott Thomason has played various music — Spice Girls, Baha Men, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Aqua — from his home about 10 times, all at the time Corney played his recording.

"We have nothing as loud as (Corney plays)," said Thomason, who said his tunes come from a hand-held speaker in his yard.

Keep in mind, Thomason is a Navy veteran himself, and he probably doesn't need patriotism lessons from Corney any more than Corney needs a nightly reminder about the awesomeness of '90s music.

Thomason said he doesn't like doing it, but he has already complained to Corney and the borough council, and nothing has been done about the music.

"What other recourse do we have?" he asked.

One resident has already called the police because of Thomason's music, but he said he's going to keep playing it — although he might switch to religious music next and get a more "permanent fixture" to help share it.

Guess what? The ACLU says Thomason is perfectly within his rights, too.

"The First Amendment doesn't discriminate . as long as he's not playing louder than the other noises tolerated by the borough, he's within his rights," Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak said.

One thing is clear: Walczak doesn't live between Corney and Thomason.

Also, the borough council really needs to work on a better noise ordinance, which is not inherently unconstitutional.

If borough officials are worried the current one won't pass legal muster, they need to change it.

Not only is it possible to craft a fair and reasonable noise rule that can withstand a court challenge — other municipalities have done it — it's necessary to keep the peace.

A hands-off approach isn't going to cut it in this case.

—York Dispatch

Online: http://bit.ly/2yj9e0a

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MONESSEN'S ELECTION MELTDOWN UNDERSCORES A BROADER LESSON, Nov. 8

What a sorry mess in Monessen. A routine municipal election in an off year descended into confusion Tuesday and ultimately led to a judge's order to sequester absentee ballots simply because the law was not followed.

Therein lies a broader lesson, unfortunately rendered at the inconvenience of Monessen's voters.

As a result, there initially was no winner in the city's mayoral race, or any other Monessen races for that matter, because a Westmoreland County judge Tuesday night impounded up to 307 absentee ballots until a hearing. This, after it came to light that the county's election bureau granted absentee ballots based solely on age (for people 65 and over) when age, alone, is not a qualifying reason under state law.

So Democrat Matt Shorraw, who won the spring primary by a slim 59 votes against incumbent Mayor Lou Mavrakis, filed an emergency injunction late Tuesday. He subsequently dropped his legal challenge after declaring victory. But don't blame Mr. Shorraw for this imbroglio. And Mr. Mavrakis had every right to mount a challenge.

Fault lies with the election bureau, which reportedly has granted absentee ballots based only on a person's age for years. And the supposed "fix" — encouraging absentee-ballot filers to, in effect, vote twice by also voting at the polls, then straightening things out afterward — doesn't pass the sniff test.

This is the unfortunate consequence when clearly delineated laws are free-lanced or otherwise abridged, regardless of the intention. People expect their public officials to know the law and abide by it. It shouldn't have taken a meltdown on Election Day to drive home this elemental point.

—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Online: http://bit.ly/2yhi92f

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THE MYTH OF THE 'GOOD GUY' WITH A GUN, Nov. 7

Supporters of unfettered access to firearms have been quick to point to the heroic actions of the Texan who confronted the shooter in Sunday's church massacre as evidence that the wide availability of guns enables Americans to defend themselves.

He was the proverbial "good guy with a gun" who stopped the "bad guy with a gun."

But that admittedly brave Texan did nothing of the sort.

Yes, he exchanged fire with the bad guy, but only as the shooter was exiting the church, leaving behind 26 dead, 20 wounded and for some reason his AR-15, the usually semi-automatic rifle favored by mass killers, along with emptied 30-round magazines and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of spent rounds.

The killer was still armed with a handgun when he exited, one of three firearms he had been able to purchase despite reports that his dishonorable discharge from the Air Force should have prevented him from buying guns. He managed to drive away and was later found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gun wound.

So this is not one of those rare stories in which an armed, courageous citizen stops a shooter.

It is the same old story of a culture with too many guns that pack too much power and too many bullets and no adequate system for keeping them out of the hands of potential mass killers.

Unfortunately, we all know how the story ends: Gun control advocates call for more laws, the National Rifle Association and its surrogates accuse them of dishonoring the dead by "playing politics" and nothing gets done.

It's a sad story. And a sickening one, too.

But we'll keep retelling it until our political leaders stop listening to the gun lobby and start listening to the 64 percent of American voters who favor stricter gun laws.

—The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice

Online: http://bit.ly/2zGyUrV